Searching for good vegetarian meals in Charlottesville, Virginia

Monday, August 16, 2010

In which we enjoy summer

The markets are full of delicious tomatoes, and my parsley survived the summer. So we made salad with some English cucumbers, Maldon sea salt, and the Laudemio Italian extra virgin olive oil I get for Christmas from my father every year. It was simple, but it was so pretty I just had to share.

I finally got around to making granola. Carnivorous Husband will thank me, I'm sure. Actually, how he's managed to survive since the last batch ran out is a bit of a mystery. Here is how I go about it:
Mix 9 cups of rolled oats with about a total of 3 cups of unsalted nuts of various types. Today, I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts. In a smaller bowl, mix together 2/3 c canola or other light oil and a total of just over a cup of a mixture of maple syrup, barley malt syrup, and honey, or any of these that you have. There is no need for a special trip to the store. I also like to add a little almond extract and sometimes cinnamon. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture on a couple of rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment. Roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, checking to make sure that the grains are browning and making lovely, large crunchy chunks--but not going overboard. Cool, mix with the dried fruit of your choice (I used cranberries and golden Hunza raisins) and pack into jars such as this sensible, old-fashioned one my grandfather gave me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In which there are snacks

Carnivorous Husband and I decided to try the new frozen yogurt place on the Downtown Mall the other day. As unappetizing as the name "Sweet Frog" sounds to me, we'd heard that their not-too-sweet plain frozen yogurt should be sampled. But first, lunch.
Marco & Luca is one of our go-to lunch places if we're short on cash. It's not exactly a well-balanced meal, so we plan to eat a more nutritious dinner when we eat there. But it's fast and tasty. I'm not a huge fan of cold noodles, and I don't eat pork dumplings, so I generally get the "vegetable hot bun," a variation of traditional Chinese "bao," a word that also means "purse." The buns are steamed and filled with a mixture of napa cabbage, cellophane noodles and some other veggies. They also come with a sweet and spicy sauce. I do sometimes make these at home, and my father made a comfort-food, pork-filled variety, but Marco & Luca's are good when I have neither the time nor the inclination to make my own.
As for Sweet Frog, the tart yogurt was surprisingly good: I tire of overly-sweet desserts. It is apparently also fat-free and contains live cultures. It was very cold and became slightly icy in texture, probably due to the lack of fat and sugars. But it was good nonetheless, and I didn't feel like I'd swallowed a butterball after eating it or anticipate that my brain wouldn't be functioning for a while. After some dishes of ice cream, I need a lie-down.
I'm not a fan of self-serve bars of any kind, because of the germ factor, and their toppings are in such a case. They have the usual suspects as well as tropical fruits and an oddball topping of soft, opaque squares called "coconut jelly" or something similar. I tried one, and it wasn't my favorite.
The yogurts are in a vault-like dispensary. Everything was very clean: the floors, tables, counters, and dispensers. One spoon had fallen, handle and all, into the strawberries, but it was the place's only flaw. It was also affordable, and I do like that I can choose how much (or little) I want on a given visit. There are no set sizes, and price is determined by weight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In which we eat burgers and fries

Burgers and fries for a vegetarian? In a restaurant? Actually, yes. No, the burger didn't come out of a box in the freezer section of the supermarket.
The restaurant in question is Boylan Heights, one of many restaurants in the "Corner" district by UVA. It has been a favorite spot for our family to watch the UVA baseball team compete in the College World Series. For this post, Mr. Persnickety will be known as Baseball Fiend.
Miss Voracious and I have both tried Boylan's vegetarian burger: it's a patty made with quinoa, corn, zucchini, and other less-identifiable but tasty veggies and grains. I find it tasty but a little tough to digest. Baseball Fiend really only likes the fries: the grilled cheese wasn't his style, but I imagine most other children would like it. They also offer a peanut butter sandwich with bananas. It sounds very sweet from the description, which could be good or bad, depending on the child. No, we don't just feed our child fries--he eats at home, and fries are his dessert when it's baseball season.
Boylan Heights is very casual and has tables of various heights on two levels. We have only eaten downstairs at traditional tables with chairs and benches. The tall tables with stools don't look as comfortable to me.
Last night, on a date with Carnivorous Husband, I tried the vegan burger: a brown rice-and-nut affair with an addictive savory flavor like Thanksgiving stuffing. It's a bit crumbly, so be prepared to use your fork. Actually, the burgers are generally piled high with toppings of your choice, so they can be hard to eat in the usual way. Vegans will be happy to observe that there are multiple toppings to suit them and lots of tasty sauces. Vegetarians will enjoy selecting one of several possible cheeses and then tackling the mostly-vegetarian topping list. I tend to have trouble deciding where to stop. The menu also suggests several topping combinations if you're feeling indecisive or overwhelmed by all the choices. I favor spicy toppings and sauces, and I also like cheese on my fries, but the milder choices and sweet potato fries are also really hard to pass up.
I now prefer the vegan burger to the vegetarian and find it to be easier on my tummy as well. Both are superior to anything you can buy in the store. I commend Boylan Heights on being the sort of restaurant to remember that vegetarians like their food to taste good, too. They could have purchased a pre-made frozen burger, but they didn't. They want us to come back often and bring our friends. And this is a burger joint.

In which we have tapas at Bang!

Carnivorous Husband and I were pleased to re-discover Bang! over the weekend. The evening was pleasant, so we decided on the front porch rather than the shabbier, dark, and very red interior. Bang! also has a nice outdoor seating area in the back, but it was closed for some reason.
Most of the vegetarian options on the menu, which must be filled out with a pencil or pen, are also vegan. There were certainly more than we could try in one dinner, and we'll have to return soon for the others. We picked tempura green beans, which I seem to remember was listed on the menu in Franglais ("Haricot vert fries" or something similar), beet salad with goat cheese, and chickpea spring rolls. I had the vegetarian noodle dish, with asparagus and mushrooms.
Carnivorous Husband had the scallops, and he insists they were good.
The green beans were heavier than the fried desserts we ordered later, the banana fritters and Asian doughnuts. Still, they were tasty, as was the spicy garlic sauce,
but I'd recommend sharing them, possibly with several people. The beet salad was half eaten before we remembered to photograph it: very fresh with lots of goat cheese. The chickpea spring rolls have been on the ever-changing menu for years, and they are a favorite: creamy, crispy, and savory. They're also piping hot, so be careful. My noodles were good but not incredible, and the asparagus was a bit woody. The desserts, which we ate entirely before we even thought of
taking pictures, were, well, gone.
The service was friendly but not overbearing, and we had no complaints. In fact, servers kept trying to serve us dishes from other tables. We didn't accept them, but we might have liked to.
Everything was very tasty.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In which I make some changes

I adore the Smitten Kitchen food blog. Its light humor and lovely pictures of delicious, prolific, and largely vegetarian dishes (hooray) bring pleasure to my mornings. I don't visit it and my other favorites for exact measurements--I prefer inspiration.
Take this nectarine cobbler. I found the original recipe there, and I believe she modified it significantly from a recipe she found elsewhere, if I'm not mistaken. Her version has the cake on the bottom, the fruit in the middle, and a streusel on top. I'm probably the laziest cook I know, so I made a version of the cake, with half the sugar and Greek yogurt thinned with a little milk, and put the nectarine chunks, peels and all, on the bottom instead. It baked up at 375 degrees in about 45-50 minutes and was wonderful. As you can see, we had eaten half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In which we have pizza

Pizza is a little bit of an ordeal to make, but we love it so much, we still manage to have it frequently. My father ("Papa" to the kids) has perfected a crust recipe, and I've made variations by substituting various whole grains for part, but not all, of the all-purpose flour. The version pictured was topped with a thin layer of Parmigiano Reggiano, then whole-milk mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce, and rosemary from the garden. I also made a couple with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and herbs, but they were eaten by Mr. Persnickety, so no picture.
I could write a whole blog just about pizza, so look out for more topping ideas in the future. For now, I leave you with Papa's crust recipe:

For two thin or one thick pizza:

3 c flour (at least one of these should be unbleached, all-purpose, but whole wheat well, too)
1 1/3 c warm water
2 t yeast (I prefer the instant yeast sold by King Arthur flour--a little goes a long way)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil

I make my dough in my large Kitchenaid standing mixer. I usually double the recipe and make three thicker or four thinner pizzas. I bake them on perforated pizza pans atop a pizza stone.

In the mixer, I place the water and yeast. I attach the paddle attachment and start it up on low and then add the oil. I then add 1 cup of flour with the mixer off and then start the mixer to mix it in. When the dough starts to come together, I switch to the dough hook. The amount of flour is inexact and depends more on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen than on some preconceived notion of how much flour pizza dough should have. Add more flour as needed to prevent sticking and knead the dough a couple of minutes, until it is elastic.

I use a dough-doubler container, oiled, with a lid. You can also use an oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise about an hour, depending on how quickly it rises. It should double in bulk.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, preferably a large, wooden board. Let it rest a few minutes and divide it into pieces if making more than one pizza. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough minimally into circles to fit your pans. Place the dough on the pans and top with your favorite toppings.

I bake my pizzas at 450 degrees.